Honoring our community’s military veterans and their service.

Ahead of Veterans Day this year, we asked some HKS students who serve—and have served—in the military: What does public service mean to you? How has your military experience shaped your understanding of and connection to public service?

Here is what they shared.

 

David Choe MC/MPA 2024

La Cañada, California
U.S. Army Ranger

Man in U.S. military camouflaged uniform smiling while standing in a field of dry grass.The unique opportunities I have had in the military continue to shape and remind me of my passion to serve—the complete dedication to one’s nation and, most importantly, people.

My numerous combat deployments remind me of our dedication to one another, whether amongst my brothers and sister in arms, or the friends and family in the reaches of my heart. As I reflect on these experiences, I am moved deeply by the spirit of service shown by the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Those moments of reflection remind me to live and lead a life that makes the world a better place.

“I am moved deeply by the spirit of service shown by the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Those moments of reflection remind me to live and lead a life that makes the world a better place.”

David Choe MC/MPA 2024, U.S. Army Ranger

Grace Jones MPP 2024

John F. Kennedy Fellowship, Belfer Young Leaders Fellowship
Redding, California
U.S. Navy Reserves, Lieutenant Commander

Woman with long hair smiling and standing with her arms crossed with a brick wall behind her.Service is putting others first. It is having people, not yourself, at the forefront of your mind, personally and professionally.

Serving in the military helped me realize service must stem from a place of compassion. I’ve witnessed firsthand the sacrifices, camaraderie, and dedication of my shipmates. The most effective leaders exemplified compassionate service: a genuine care for one another was not merely an emotion, but a motivating factor guiding every mission.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the sacrifices, camaraderie, and dedication of my shipmates. The most effective leaders exemplified compassionate service: a genuine care for one another was not merely an emotion, but a motivating factor guiding every mission.”

Grace Jones MPP 2024, U.S. Navy Reserves, Lieutenant Commander

Rebecca Marshall MC/MPA 2024

Medford Lakes, New Jersey
U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer

Woman in U.S. Army camouflaged uniform smiling and holding the U.S. flag.Public service means giving of yourself for the greater good.

I serve my country by leading soldiers in the U.S. Army to help develop engaged, responsible citizens who can contribute to society during and after their military service. While it is important to honor those who have served in the military on Veterans Day, I also recognize my HKS classmates who offer their time and energy to better our communities through their service as educators, health care providers, nonprofit professionals, or policymakers and activists.

What distinguishes members of the military from many other public servants is our unique sense of duty, selfless service, and personal courage.

When called upon, we must at a moment’s notice put aside personal cares or beliefs and fulfill our obligation to deploy to harsh, dangerous environments. We are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our fellow servicemembers and civilians and to preserve the ideals and values we hold dear.

Over the last 10 years, I have lost many friends and mentors in the line of duty, and their lives and legacies are testaments to the personal and moral courage of those who wear the uniform with solemn pride. I had the privilege of serving with people of different backgrounds, religions, socioeconomic classes, and political opinions, and we always found common ground in our commitment to advance the cause of freedom. Our differences can be our greatest asset in public service.

“I had the privilege of serving with people of different backgrounds, religions, socioeconomic classes, and political opinions, and we always found common ground in our commitment to advance the cause of freedom.”

Rebecca Marshall MC/MPA 2024, U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer

Brandon Moore MPP/MBA 2025

2023 Black Family Fellowship2023 Pat Tillman Scholar
Torrington, Connecticut
U.S. Army, Captain (Aviation)

Man in U.S. Army camouflaged uniform, wearing a billed black military hat and standing in front of the U.S. flag.The score is 8-9. It’s a tight match between me and my team of helicopter pilots and mechanics versus the opposing team of local Afghan soldiers. We had started a volleyball tournament to help pass the time. After all, time was in abundance.

Four months into our deployment to a small outpost in southeast Afghanistan, the United States began peace negotiations with the Taliban. This resulted in the “grounding” of our Apache helicopters for the foreseeable future.

We spoke almost no Pashto and they spoke little English, but the smiles and gestures of frustration when the ball landed outside the court were sufficient communication. We became friends.

Exactly one year after we departed our outpost, Afghan provinces began to fall to the Taliban. Scrolling through online images, I discovered a photo of Taliban soldiers occupying my former headquarters. Scrolling further, I saw them surrounding the barracks that housed the Afghan soldiers. I need not describe the peril they faced. I tell this story to emphasize one point: service is real. It is impactful, it matters, and the stakes are as high as they can possibly get. I also cannot put into words the privilege it was to serve alongside American, coalition, and Afghan servicemembers while fighting for a stable democracy in Afghanistan. Our mission was unambiguous, and our purpose was clear. Yet Kabul fell, and the rights of Afghan women and girls were all but eliminated. This means that our duty now is to never forget. We can never forget those who sacrificed through two bloody decades of conflict, and we cannot forget the millions of Afghans who continue to suffer to this day.

“Service is real. It matters and the stakes are as high as they can possibly get. I cannot put into words the privilege it was to serve alongside American, coalition, and Afghan servicemembers while fighting for a stable democracy in Afghanistan.”

Brandon Moore MPP/MBA 2025, U.S. Army, Captain (Aviation)

Jon Moss MC/MPA 2024

2023 Pat Tillman Scholar
Los Angeles, California
U.S. Navy Special Operations (EOD) Officer

Man smiling while wearing a light brown camouflaged uniform and protective helmet. Public service is a commitment to the betterment of society, driven by deep empathy and a desire to bridge gaps of inequality and injustice.

My understanding of public service has been shaped by my diverse experiences, from my time in the classroom as an elementary school teacher in Compton, California, to my military service and humanitarian work.

Growing up in a dysfunctional family environment, I became acutely aware of other people’s vulnerabilities. The chaos of my early life instilled in me resilience and an ability to remain calm in the face of adversity. These experiences made me sensitive to the struggles of vulnerable communities and drove me to make a tangible difference. This led me to teach in the Compton Unified School District, where I witnessed firsthand the disparities in education and the potential of young minds when given the right opportunities.

My military experience further deepened my connection to public service. Serving as a Special Operations Bomb Technician in the Navy, I was entrusted with ensuring safety and security. This role honed my technical skills and reinforced the importance of selfless service, teamwork, and leadership. My time in the military made me realize I could leverage my skills to serve even more vulnerable populations such as the oppressed Karenni people in Burma. Witnessing their resilience and desperation, I felt a moral obligation to stand by them, to provide them with the resources and support they desperately needed. The stark contrast between the resources available in the West and the dire circumstances of the Karenni people highlighted the urgency of their plight. It was evident that their suffering demanded immediate action.

My military training and the leadership skills I acquired equipped me to make a meaningful impact in these conflict zones. But beyond the technical assistance, I realized that the most profound impact I could make was being present and making those around me feel valued and loved.

My experiences in Burma further solidified my commitment to public service. Witnessing the devastating effects of civil war and the challenges faced by Internally Displaced People (IDPs), I recognized the need for agile, grassroots solutions. The people of Burma, largely forgotten by the Western world, required sustainable solutions to empower them in the long run.

Now, as I look to the future, my vision is clear. I aim to establish a nongovernmental organization dedicated to removing weapons of war and ensuring the safety of civilians in conflict zones. I aim to collaborate with governments, international organizations, and other NGOs to create lasting solutions. My time at HKS will equip me with the policy knowledge required to realize this vision.

To me, public service is more than just a duty; it’s a calling. It’s about recognizing the interconnectedness of our shared humanity and stepping up to make a difference. My military experience has shaped my understanding of public service and instilled in me a relentless drive to serve those in need, no matter the challenges.

As we commemorate Veterans Day, I am reminded of the sacrifices made by countless individuals in the name of service. I am honored and inspired by the legacy and selfless dedication of those before me.

“To me, public service is more than just a duty; it’s a calling. It’s about recognizing the interconnectedness of our shared humanity and stepping up to make a difference.”

Jon Moss MC/MPA 2024, U.S. Navy Special Operations (EOD) Officer

Omer S. Rafiq MC/MPA 2024

2023 Pat Tillman Scholar
Southbridge, Massachusetts
U.S. Marine Corps, Infantry Officer

Public service to me is sustaining the decorum and integrity of democratic institutions that made my parents bet on America almost two decades ago. Man in U.S. Marine Corps camouflage uniform knelling down and smiling with four young children.

As a first-generation immigrant, I have benefited from American values in more ways that I can begin to quantify. Through continued public service, I aspire to support a sustainable and inclusive democracy that uplifts everyone—and is a beacon of hope for nations across the globe to emulate.

As a military officer, integrity, empathy, resilience, and moral courage were the bedrock of my success in uniform. Being a trustee for the wellbeing of those under my charge was not only part of my job description, but also a moral imperative. The concept of "service before self" was molded in my ethos and tested repeatedly across the globe. These experiences have ignited a desire for continued public service while always prioritizing the needs of country and community before self. 

“The concept of 'service before self' was molded in my ethos and tested repeatedly across the globe. These experiences have ignited a desire for continued public service while always prioritizing the needs of country and community before self.”

Omer S. Rafiq MC/MPA 2024, U.S. Marine Corps, Infantry Officer

Garry Schwartzman MC/MPA 2024

2023 CPL Equity Fellowship2023 Pat Tillman Scholar
Rockville, Maryland
U.S. Army, Major

Man in U.S. Army camouflaged uniform smiling while standing in front of a red-leafed bush.I define public service through the lens of an immigrant.

Soon after arriving in the United States, my uncle, a former Soviet refusenik, gave me a word of advice: “There are three types of people in this country—those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. Strive to become an agent of change.”

Inspired by his wisdom, I decided to serve my new country during a time of war. Nearly two decades after joining the military, I continue safeguarding the American dream to repay my debt of gratitude to my adoptive nation. Since my early days in combat supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, through my formative years as a Combat Support Officer and now a newly minted Foreign Area Officer, I seek to advance and defend U.S. national security interests by building and strengthening America’s diplomatic and military relations with our regional partners.

“Nearly two decades after joining the military, I continue safeguarding the American dream to repay my debt of gratitude to my adoptive nation.”

Garry Schwartzman MC/MPA 2024, U.S. Army, Major

Joshua Stinson PhD in Public Policy candidate

Fort Walton Beach, Florida
U.S. Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel

Man standing at a podium, wearing a navy blue U.S. Air Force uniform. The value of public service for me has deepened over time.

When I joined the military, the opportunity to fly airplanes in combat, get an education, and pursue adventure around the world was compelling. But after wearing the uniform for over two decades, the value of public service has changed. There were plenty of adventures, combat missions, and opportunities to lead. But I never anticipated the lost time, lost friends, and lost wars.

Today, I’m clear eyed about the complex hurdles. Continued public service is deeply tied to my values of sustaining the United States government and ensuring that the U.S. military is ready to meet future challenges. Public service is now about fixing systemic issues incrementally and creating opportunities so the next generation of public servants can live up to our highest ideals.  

I remain in public service not because of ambitions of adventure and glory. Instead, I found the perseverance to lead through challenging circumstances was rewarding and profound for the public good. The opportunity to make a difference for others, even in the smallest of ways, sustains my energy to better the military, the United States, and people around the world.

The opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself and make a small difference is why I remain committed in public service.

“I remain in public service not because of ambitions of adventure and glory. The opportunity to make a difference sustains my energy to better the military, the United States, and people around the world.”

Joshua Stinson PhD in Public Policy candidate, U.S. Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel

Roni Yadlin PhD in Public Policy candidate

Irvine, California
U.S. Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel, B-1 Pilot

Woman wearing a U.S. Air Force helmet with the sun reflecting off its sun visor .To me, public service means putting the needs of your community, city, state, or country above your own. Public service is about ensuring just environments in which everyone can be safe and fulfilled.

My military experience has exposed me to a community of people dedicated to service. Everyone came to military service for unique and individual reasons, but they are all ready and willing to put those individual desires aside to serve the greater good.

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Roni Yadlin PhD in Public Policy candidate, U.S. Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel, B-1 Pilot standing in front of a list of Harvard men who died in World War II, in Harvard University's Memorial Church.